April 1, 2024
By Lisa Germain, DDS, MScD

     What do you say when someone tells you to tape your mouth shut?  “REALLY?” I said to my friend as she handed me a roll of surgical tape.  She explained that it would help me sleep.  My consummate curiosity getting the best of me, I complied.  The next morning, she asked me how I slept.  I replied,” I am not quite sure I slept better, but the tape ripped all of the dead skin off my lips, and they look amazing.”

     All kidding aside, it seemed to me that the recent attention to mouth taping was something I needed to explore further when several of my patients asked me about it.  I began to take a deeper dive and was dumbfounded to read, “There’s a new health trend on TikTok: taping your mouth shut at night to sleep better. It’s called mouth taping and videos using the hashtag #mouthtaping already have more than 39 million views on the social media platform.”   The Tik Tok pundits (influencers?) claimed a wide variety of purported benefits from more energy, cures bad breath, reduces brain fog, reduces cavities, gives you a sharper jawline, prevents sinus infections, improves your immune system, increases the elasticity in your skin and improves digestion to name just a few.  While it is true, that many of these benefits have been correlated with a good night’s sleep, I approached it like I do with most advice gleaned from a viral social media craze; I searched for scientific backing.

     Mouth taping involves gently placing a piece of skin-friendly tape over your lips to keep them shut while sleeping to encourage breathing through your nose. According to many sleep specialists, nasal breathing is encouraged in this way because it is a more efficient, effective way of breathing versus inhaling and exhaling through your mouth.  It humidifies and filters the air, and activates the lower lungs, letting you take deeper, fuller breaths. It can also help your body relax as you ease into sleep.  Breathing through your nose can also help filter out allergens, pathogens and dust,  potentially helping to defend against infections and ward off allergies.

    When you breathe through your nose, your sinuses naturally produce a gas called nitric oxide. As nitric oxide flows from the nasal sinuses to the lungs and into the blood, it can help lower blood pressure. The gas can widen blood vessels and potentially improved blood flow. In addition, sleeping with your mouth open may cause you to wake up with a dry mouth, which can contribute to cavities, bad breath, a hoarse voice and dry, cracked lips.

     Yet, despite its seemingly logical benefits, I discovered that mouth taping has not been extensively studied. A few small trials have investigated whether mouth taping can alleviate snoring in people with pre-existing sleep conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea. A study done by Lee et al. 1 concluded, “Mouth-taping during sleep improved snoring and the severity of sleep apnea in mouth-breathers with mild OSA, with AHI (apnea/hypoxia index) and SI (snoring index) being reduced by about half. The higher the level of baseline AHI and SI, the greater the improvement was shown after mouth-taping.”  They suggested that mouth-taping could be an alternative treatment in patients with mild OSA before turning to CPAP therapy or surgical intervention.  However, their test study only included 20 individuals.  A larger sample size and corroborating studies are necessary to lend complete credibility to these claims if one is looking for science-based evidence.

     Not all sleep specialists are convinced.  Kathryn Palmer, AGNP, a sleep medicine specialist with Banner Health in Colorado believes that mouth taping isn’t a safe way to improve nasal breathing.  She has reported that: “There is not enough scientific evidence to support benefits from mouth taping, and it can be dangerous.  That’s because mouth breathing is a backup—if you can’t breathe through your nose while you’re sleeping, your mouth will naturally open so you can take in the air you need.” Other opponents discuss how it can block your airflow, making it harder for you to breathe while you’re sleeping. They also express concern that if you vomit or have acid reflux when your mouth is taped, the stomach contents could go into your lungs. According to Harvard Health Online, while intentional nose breathing during waking hours can offer many benefits — including slowing breathing, filtering allergens, and easing anxiety — taping your mouth while sleeping to achieve this can prove risky, leading to hampered breathing, disrupted sleep, or skin irritation. There’s no research to support the measure, which, in certain cases, could significantly reduce a person’s oxygen levels while sleeping.

     The rest of my search for information resulted in more of the same.  Pros and cons.  Risks and benefits.  Proponents and opponents. Now when a patient asks me about mouth taping, I refer them to a sleep specialist.  I tell them that Tik Tok is great to learn how to make 3-D snowflake ornaments out of coffee filters, shape your vegan dumplings like puffer fish, and shuffle dance to Modern Talking’s “Brother Louie”.  I warn them that social media is rife with so-called medical advice.  I tell them that they may benefit from mouth taping, but that without a work-up, proper diagnosis from a professional, and an individualized treatment plan, they could be endangering their health-not improving it. 

  1. Lee YC, Lu CT, Cheng WN, Li HY. The Impact of Mouth-Taping in Mouth-Breathers with Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Preliminary Study. Healthcare (Basdel). 2022 Sep 13;10(9):1755. doi: 10.3390/healthcare10091755. PMID: 36141367; PMCID: PMC9498537.